Seat’s new Ibiza puts a little pimento in the supermini stew

New small hatchback has more room, more toys, but is still well priced starting at €14,995

Make: Seat

Model: Ibiza

Year: 2017

Fuel: Petrol

Date Reviewed: June 29, 2017

Thu, Jun 29, 2017, 22:41

   

It is heartening to see Seat’s recent performance, both in monetary terms and in the quality of its cars. For far too long the sick man of the Volkswagen Group, Seat has been on something of a roll lately, posting its first decent profits in several years, and launching well-priced, well-placed cars such as the Leon and the Ateca, its first SUV.

The Ibiza has always been the heart of the Seat brand, though. Small and cheap, it epitomised the holiday rental car special – anyone who’s rented from Hertz or Avis in Santa Ponza has probably driven an old-shape Ibiza, and so will be familiar with its shortcomings. Chief amongst which was noise.

In spite of platform sharing with the VW Polo (not a car especially noted for its noisy cabin) the old Ibiza could give you tinnitus on a long drive. Even a short drive, come to that. Although well made and reliable, it always managed to feel a touch too tinny and cheap, too.

Big improvement

So this new Ibiza is something of a revelation. Sit in and clunk the door shut, and you’ll notice immediately that the cabin has taken a major step forward. It’s roomier for a start, thanks to the new MQB-A0 chassis (which Seat is the first to use and which won’t appear under the new VW Polo until much later this year), and space in the back is vastly improved. And while the cabin plastics lack the squishy soft-touch feeling of some, they’re still of high quality, and feel pretty decent to the touch.

Our SE-spec test car will represent the bulk of Ibiza sales, about 60 per cent, with the rest split pretty much evenly between the more luxurious Xcellence model, the sporty FR, and a few percentage points left over for the stripped-out and very basic S.

The SE comes with essentially all you need – a small but easy-to-use five-inch touchscreen media system, air conditioning, alloy wheels (only 15-inched in diameter so you’re not going to knock your fillings out on bumps), Bluetooth phone connection, ambient lighting, and plenty of safety add-ons. For €17,335, it comes with the 75hp 1.0-litre three-cylinder naturally-aspirated petrol engine.

True, the 115hp three-cylinder turbo 1.0-litre (lively) and the 150hp 1.5-litre turbo petrol (smoothie) engines arguably show off the Ibiza’s talents a little better, but this 70hp unit is the bread and butter of the range, so it’s pleasing to report that it’s really rather decent.

Okay, so it’s not exactly over-burdened with power, but row the five-speed manual gearbox along and it feels reasonably peppy, and warbles with a pleasant three-cylinder hum when you accelerate hard.

Better still, it shuts up when you’re cruising. Switch off the stereo for a minute, and revel in the hushed cabin. Well, hushed by the standards of the old Ibiza at any rate. Even at motorway speeds there’s no one particular noise that intrudes, so here at last is a small Spanish car in which you’d happily drive to or from Cork and back. Nicely comfortable front seats help here too, although the driving position is a little offset.

The Ibiza is actually quite engaging to drive, too. The steering is very light and twirly at low speeds, but it builds weight and feel as you build speed, so on a twisty road, the Ibiza is actually quite an entertaining companion, albeit that’s within the relatively low grip window of the tyres on this humbler version.

Still, it bodes well for a future Cupra model. What bodes even better for Cupra is that Seat has been poaching senior staff from Fiat’s hot Abarth brand, with an eye on turning its Cupra high-performance models into, effectively, a sub-brand of their own. On the basis of this humble SE model, the Ibiza should prove a good platform for Cupra-isation.

Trading down

In the meantime, Seat expects to sell around 1,250 Ibizas a year here, but staff are brushing off concerns that it might eat into sales of the more expensive Leon. Neil Dalton, Seat Ireland’s head of marketing and product, told The Irish Times that “inevitably, with a new model, you might see a few customers trading down, but we think that with the price points of the Ibiza and the Leon, and the new Arona crossover when that arrives later in the year, that we are pitching all three cars at quite different customers, so it shouldn’t be a big problem for us”.

What seems to be putting a gleam in the eyes of Seat staff is, in fact, the promise of a glut of new models. As one insider put it to us “for years, we just spent money telling people about the Ibiza and the Leon because that was kind of all we had. Now we have the Ateca, next we have the Arona, then we have the big seven-seater SUV, so it’s a really exciting time for the brand”.

Sales in Ireland are up by 16 per cent for Seat so far this year, dramatically out-performing a new car market that has fallen by 10 per cent and may yet fall further still. If it keeps launching cars of the quality and obvious appeal of the new Ibiza, that gap could just keep widening.

The lowdown: Seat Ibiza 1.0 MPI 75hp SE.

Price: as tested: €17,335. Prices start from €14,995

Power: 75hp.

Torque: 95Nm.

0-100km/h: 14.7sec.

Top speed: 167km/h.

Claimed economy: 57mpg (4.9 litres/100km).

CO2 emissions: 112g/km.

Motor tax: €200 per annum.

Verdict: Smart, simple, refined, and very appealing.

Our rating: 4/5